Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday tried to downplay the comparison he had drawn between a rampaging settler riot in a Palestinian town and protests in Tel Aviv against his government’s plan to radically overhaul the country’s justice system.
“Contrary to claims made in the media, the only comparison that the prime minister made between Huwara and Tel Aviv was that it is forbidden to take the law into your own hands in any place,” said a statement from his office.
Netanyahu made the comparison in a live statement from his office during the primetime evening newscasts on Wednesday evening, after a day of countrywide protests against the judicial overhaul that reached new heights of hostility.
Protests rolled across Israel on Wednesday, leading to at least 11 injuries and more than 50 arrests, as demonstrators clashed with police. In Tel Aviv, protesters who tried to block the Ayalon Highway were handled with aggressive measures, including water cannons and stun grenades — the first time such means were used in the recent demonstrations against the planned legislation.
On Sunday, radical settlers rioted in the Palestinian town of Huwara in retribution for a terror attack that killed two Israelis earlier in the day in the same town. They burned homes, cars, and stores, and assaulted residents, leading to injuries. One Palestinian was killed in unclear circumstances.
“We won’t accept violence in Huwara and we won’t accept violence in Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu said.
The premier added that, in both situations, demonstrators had crossed red lines, which he defined as violence and anarchy.
After Netanyahu’s follow-up statement Thursday, National Union party chief Benny Gantz told him to apologize.
“Netanyahu, instead of trying to backtrack and lie, apologize to the protesters and take back your criminal comparison, which gives moral support to terror,” he tweeted.
Gantz was among the opposition leaders who expressed outrage at the comparison after Netanyahu’s speech.
“Forgive me, but to carry out a pogrom in a town, to set it on fire, to kill somebody, to take a break for evening prayers, and then to carry on spreading chaos — that bears no similarity to blocking roads,” he said Wednesday evening.
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid, who gave a studio interview to Channel 13 immediately after Netanyahu’s statement, called it “a series of shocking remarks.”
“A terrible statement, that deepens dispute, from a weak and dangerous man,” Lapid said.
“Huwara was a pogrom by terrorists,” he added. “Are you going to compare that… to the people who went out today to the streets today, the best people in the country, patriots.”
Labor party chief Merav Michaeli also bristled at the comparison she characterized as “between patriots who are fighting for democracy and anarchists burning homes in Huwara.”